Telecommuting could help staff balance work, life

Dot-commers thought they had it made when they started coming into the office in shorts and flip-flops. But some UCSC employees go to work in their pajamas.

They're telecommuters. For some staff members, a computer with a high-speed connection and the appropriate software, a phone, any relevant files or paperwork, and a formal telecommuting agreement are all that's needed to work from home.

Though the campus doesn't keep figures on how many of its employees take part in such alternative work arrangements, the topic is one the Staff Advisory Board wants to make more visible.

"Telecommuting is an important issue for staff, both in terms of retention--increasing productivity and making staff feel supported--and environmental issues--the amount of people and cars coming on campus," said Eric Grabiel, chair of the 12-member Staff Advisory Board.

To that end, the SAB will host a panel discussion for all staff on telecommuting and alternative work schedules from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 12, in Room 71 of Social Sciences 2.

The panel discussion will cover UCSC policy and guide participants to the currently available resources, the benefits of telecommuting and alternative schedules, and best practices and strategies for working with your supervisor to propose and develop an alternative work schedule or plan. A question-and-answer session will follow the presentation.

Assistant Chancellor Ashish Sahni, who telecommutes on Wednesdays, will participate as a panelist via conference call.

Chancellor George Blumenthal supports telecommuting as long as it makes sense for the job and is equally beneficial to the employee, the manager, and the unit, with clear expectations on all sides.

"In fact, a member of my immediate office telecommutes one day a week, and we regularly evaluate the success of that arrangement," said Blumenthal. "It's important that we do all that we can to make UCSC even more of a family-friendly campus."

Retention and productivity are two of the most important reasons to increase awareness of a telecommuting option, said Grabiel.

"Work/life balance for staff is an issue," said Grabiel. "I would like to see recommendations to the administration that build greater incentives, support, encouragement, technical advisement, and responsibility on the part of managers and supervisors to increase the usage and development of telecommuting."

Telecommuting and alternative work schedules are commplace among faculty at UCSC, said Grabiel.

The advisory board sees the issue as one of staff welfare and "would like to see more formal campus support, encouragement, and recognition to units and supervisors who promote and support telecommuting," Grabiel said.

One of the first things to consider when considering a telecommuting arrangement is whether a particular job allows for it, said Cathy Schoenfeld, manager of policy and personnel systems with Staff Human Resources.

And, she said, "if you're going to be working from home, do you have the computer setup, connectivity, phone, total availability? Because it should be exactly as it is at work, and you need to have the ability to follow through on your assignments."

Work calls can be forwarded to a designated number, said Grabiel.

"So a telecommuter can seamlessly never miss a call, and it's invisible to the person making the call," he said.

Though there is currently no formal campus initiative to increase or develop telecommuting, the practice is supported by Staff HR for work/life balance reasons, said Schoenfeld, who, herself, telecommutes one day a week. A UCSC employee since 1985, she's been on her once-a-week telecommuting arrangement for about a year.

"It helps productivity, retention, and recruitment, and quite frankly, you're able to get projects done," she said.

She's noticed that telecommuting one day a week increases her work output because it eliminates the commute and allows her the quiet time she needs to concentrate.

UC is not mandated to provide equipment for telecommuting, said Schoenfeld, but decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

In addition to Wednesday's workshop, the Staff Advisory Board also hopes to conduct a survey among staff this spring that will ask questions and gather input on telecommuting.

For more information, contact the Staff Advisory Board at